science

Canadian government accused of destroying environmental archives

Courtesy of Save Ocean Science.

Courtesy of Save Ocean Science.

Researchers fear that valuable documents will disappear as libraries close and merge.

Scientists in Canada are up in arms over the recent closure of more than a dozen federal science libraries run by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Environment Canada.

The closures were mostly completed by last autumn, but hit the headlines last week when pictures of dumpsters full of scientific journals and books began circulating online. Some of facilities that have been closed include the library at the century-old St. Andrews Biological Station in New Brunswick, which had just completed a multi-million-dollar refurbishment a year earlier, and the library at the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The libraries housed hundred of thousands of documents on fisheries and aquatic science, such as historical fish counts and water-quality analyses. Read more in Nature.

A Grab Bag of Surprises in General Science

Welcome to the General Science category on Science Borealis. This is the place where we put all of the blogs that defy categorization – or whose authors just can’t stick to one subject.

In this category you’ll find a dose of every scientific subject, from astronomy to zoology, with big helpings of policy, politics, science in society and discussions of the science communication community. We’ve got the CBC’s Quirks and Quarks blog and the Canadian Science Writers Associationgroup blog, and many independent blogs written by individuals. Read more on Science Borealis.

Does parliament need a science watchdog?

The NDP's Kennedy Stewart and Laurin Liu pose with Canadian Science Policy Centre president Mehrdad Hariri and science minister Greg Rickford at CSPC 2013.

The NDP’s Kennedy Stewart and Laurin Liu pose with Canadian Science Policy Centre president Mehrdad Hariri and science minister Greg Rickford at CSPC 2013.

The NDP is making a play for the science vote. At last week’s Canadian Science Policy Conference the party’s science critic, Kennedy Stewart, unveiled the third plank in the opposition’s slowly developing science policy: an independent Parliamentary Science Officer (PSO).

Stewart will table his proposal in the house this week as a private member’s bill – it would create a position whose job would be to both provide independent, nonpartisan scientific information to MPs on demand, but also to scrutinize and pass judgement on the scientific basis for any proposed bill or policy. Read more on CSWA blog.

Pitch-drop custodian dies without witnessing a drop fall

Photo courtesy of University of Queensland.

Photo courtesy of University of Queensland.

John Mainstone, who for 52 years tended to one of the world’s longest-running laboratory experiments but never saw it bear fruit with his own eyes, died on 23 August after suffering a stroke. He was 78.

Mainstone had been looking after the pitch drop experiment at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia since he arrived at the university as a physics professor in 1961. The experiment, set up in 1927 by the university’s first head of the physics department, Thomas Parnell, consists of a sample of tar pitch slowly running through a funnel (see ‘Long-term research: Slow science‘). Read more in Nature.

Slow science

The world’s longest-running experiments remind us that science is a marathon, not a sprint.

Although science is a long-term pursuit, research is often practised over short timescales: a discrete experiment or a self-contained project constrained by the length of a funding cycle. But some investigations cannot be rushed. To study human lifespans or the roiling of Earth’s crust and the Sun’s surface, for instance, requires decades and even centuries.

Here, Nature takes a look at five of science’s longest-running projects, some of which have been amassing data continuously for centuries. Read more in Nature.

On the record

The open science movement is just the latest development in the long history of scholarly communication.

The essence of science has always been communication. Nothing gets entered into the scientific record until it has been published in a peer-reviewed journal so that it can be explained to the scientific community at large, allowing them to examine and critique the work. And the roots of those journals go back to the letters that the first natural philosophers of the enlightenment wrote to one another to share their ideas and the results of their experiments.

So it is fitting that as new communications technologies are developed, scientists are among the first to adopt them and make use of them in their work. Read more in Materials Today.

Brace for impact

With public finances tight, governments around the world are demanding a return on their investment in science. Researchers should get used to it.

When the financial crisis hit in 2008 it became clear that the good times of the previous decade were not going to last. Researchers, who had gotten used to 10 years of steadily increasing budgets, immediately began making the case that investment in science and technology was the best way to ensure economic recovery.

In many countries, it worked. Despite plunging national revenues, governments around the world included extra funding for science and technology in their stimulus budgets.

But often the money came with strings attached. Read more in Materials Today.

Open Sesame

A synchrotron under construction in the Middle East brings hope for both science and peace.

“It’s like a parallel universe,” says Eliezer Rabinovici, director of the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, of the complex of buildings in the Jordanian desert near Amman. Rabinovici is a string theorist, so he knows a thing or two about parallel universes.

The Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (Sesame) project, modeled on the Cern particle physics lab in Switzerland, is a unique scientific collaboration in the middle of a politically fraught region. The nine members—Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, Palestine and Turkey—are not natural allies, indeed this is the only organization outside of the UN that can count both Israel and Iran as members. Read more in Materials Today.

Industry and academics square off over future of Framework

The negotiations on Framework 8, the EU’s research funding programme scheduled to begin in 2014, are now well and truly underway.

With the mid-term review of Framework 7 now out of the way, attention will quickly turn to its successor. The European Commission will present its first communication on Framework 8 in early 2011, and an impact assessment next summer.

Already the debate has broadly divided into two camps, those who favour support for near-market research and innovation, and those who want European funding to concentrate on scientific excellence. Read more in Materials Today.

LibDem grassroots wait and see on science

Liberal Democrat activists at the party’s conference in Liverpool have adopted a ‘wait and see’ attitude to the coalition’s science policy.

“I think the jury’s still out,” Ken Cosslett, chairman of the Association of Liberal Democrat Engineers and Scientists told Research Fortnight. “But we will definitely be discussing it at our AGM on Wednesday.”

After winning the support of many scientists in the election campaign, when the Liberal Democrats were seen to have the best science policy of the three main parties, opinion has swung away in recent weeks as the reality of big cuts to the science budget begin to hit home. Cosslett says the association is concerned about how much influence the party is having in the coalition. Read more in Research Fortnight.